Jeron paced the living room floor, biting his nails incessantly.
“How long has he been gone?” Sylus leaned against a wall, struggling to stay calm. He was wearing his work clothes from the days prior, it was the quickest thing he could put on.
“I-I don’t know!” Jeron pulled on his loose dreadlocks. “I don’t know when he left! I don’t know where he went! He’s just not here, Sy! He’s just not here!”
“Jeron,” he pushed himself away from the wall, “Jeron,” he put his hands on his partner’s shoulders, “Breathe. Please. Sit down.” He motioned to the couch. Daniel slid over to one side.
“Sylus…” Jeron’s voice shook.
“Panicking won’t help us find him…”
Shaking his head, Jeron sat beside Daniel. Sylus took up the last end cushion. “Y-you’re right… I-I just… I can’t think straight… This isn’t like him!”
“When did you last see him?”
“When I got home last night… ten o’clock? He was asleep, Sy… Just… Just asleep… I tried to wake him up, but… I don’t know…” he pressed his face into his hands, “I lost Mom. I can’t lose Pops, too…”
“He’s not lost. We’ll find him. He can’t have gone far…”
“Yeah but in this place? Who knows! Portals and monsters and…” Jeron sobbed.
“We’ll find him, Jer, I promise… We’ll find him.” Sylus wrapped his arms around Jeron’s shoulders, rubbing them gently.
“Why would he do this? Why would he just wander off like this… Without a WORD! The man who can’t let me breathe without knowing how busy he is…” Jeron groaned, “It’s not like him. Pops doesn’t sneak around. He announces every fucking thing he does. Making breakfast. Taking a shit… Pops never does ANYTHING without making a big deal out of it…”
Sylus tightened his grip on Jeron’s shoulders, “He can’t have gone far…”
“Yeah but in this town?” Anxiety mounted with every syllable.
“The Riftworks contains the monsters, Jer, don’t worry. I don’t exactly trust Henley, but from what I saw,” Sylus visibly shuddered, “He has them well under control.”
“What if it’s that place?” Jeron suddenly sat upright, “Pops’s always been very vocal about hating it… What if they took him away? What if they’re experimenting on him…”
“Jeron,” Sylus was trying desperately to calm his paranoia, “There are a lot of sketchy/borderline barbaric things going on at the ‘Works, but Henley really doesn’t give a shit about anything outside the facility.”
“Pops said the place was an invasion point. That the government wasn’t actually protecting us… That they were trying to find a way to control the monsters so they could control the masses…” Jeron muttered without a hint of inflection.
Sylus swallowed hard at the terrifying familiarity between Jeron’s words and what Henley had shown him.
“I-I… What I saw…”
“He was right, wasn’t he?” Jeron finally turned to Sylus, a deadpan look on his face. “That’s why he’s gone missing… They took him. They took my father.” He stood up from the couch.
Sylus was quick to lunge out with his tendril, wrapping it gently around his partner’s wrist. “Jeron, let me be clear,” Jeron turned to face him, “I think Henley is up to something, but I’m sure it has nothing to do with the government and I’m CERTAIN he’d never bother to abduct someone for crazy conspiracy theories. He’s more the type to let the rambling go uncontested so it doesn’t look like some kind of cover-up…”
Jeron scoffed and shook his head, clearly not in the right mindset to see reason. “So he’s just some crazy old cook screaming conspiracy theories for anyone to hear? Come on, Sy. He’s my fucking father.
“Jeron… I-I know you don’t want to believe me, but Henley really does have that place completely under his control… And I never said your dad was a cook…”
“You can get in there, right?” Jeron’s eyes lit up as if a flame had ignited inside of him.
“What? Y-yes… O-of course I can… But Henley…”
Jeron shook his head, “The front door isn’t the only way in, is it?”
Sylus thought a moment. “A few vents and external ports,” he sighed, “But none are suitable for humans…”
Jeron’s mind began racing again. He knew the main entrance was a no go. The second Sylus swiped his card, Henley would be notified. They couldn’t risk that. He snapped his fingers, “What if we climb over the barrier?”
Sylus shrugged, “Still can’t get in from the Pit without an access card and Henley knows the second they go through the system.”
Silence set in as they both scraped their minds for a practical idea.
“Why not just ask Henley himself?” Daniel piped up from the couch.
Both adults turned to him in utter shock.
“He’s an asshole, Dad, but… He’s also weirdly attached to you, isn’t he?”
“Well… If you’re certain he wouldn’t be one to abduct people but someone there did, maybe Henley would know where to look?”
Jeron and Sylus glanced between themselves and then back at Daniel.
With a shrug, Sylus reached for his phone. Just as he turned the screen on, a message came in:
“Who’s that?” Jeron was certain he already knew the answer.
“You know what they say,” Sylus turned his phone to him, “Speak of the devil and he doth appear…”
“Well then, let’s not keep him waiting,” Jeron made his way toward the stairs.
Sylus felt his pockets for his card, but it wasn’t there.
“I-I think my card’s at home… I need to stop by there real quick…”
“Do you know where it is?”
The panic and anxiety that had just settled shot right back into Sylus. What if he’d lost his card? What good was he if he couldn’t find it…
“Oh god…” he muttered, feeling the blackness of a shutdown coming on.
“Sylus?” Jeron took him by the shoulders, “Hey… Hey… We’ll find it. That,” he shook the pallid man gently, “Or we’ll just ask Henley to let us in.”
Sylus’ phone chimed again. Another message:
“Looks like the way’s clear,” Jeron strained, peering over Sylus’ shoulder.
“Think it’s a trap?” Sylus turned to him, shoving his phone back in his pocket.
Jeron shrugged, “You know the guy better than I do, what do you think?”
Sylus’ mind ran through his lexicon of knowledge about Henley. “I know he’s clever enough to spring a trap, but I also know he wouldn’t have to stage it so hard if he only intended to deal with me… All he’d have to do is call me in… Not strip the security system…”
“You believe he did that?”
“Why would he bother lying about something like that?” Sylus turned to his son, “Stay here, Dan. If something goes wrong, Jeron knows what to do. I’ll text you. Our word. You’ll understand…”
“G-goes wrong?” Daniel slid off the couch, “Y-you’re just visiting work, right?”
A deep sigh emanated from Sylus’ delicate frame. Everything Qaitax had said about a life-changing or life-ending event came back to him. He was certain, at this point, that it would have something to do with Henley. “I’d just like us all to be prepared for whatever might happen…”
Daniel settled back down on the couch, taking his phone in his hand and holding on to it for dear life.
Sylus’ phone dinged with another message:
“What is it?” Jeron tried to peek at his phone, but Sylus turned the screen off before he could.
“S-something must be very wrong…” Sylus turned to Jeron, fear in his eyes, “For Henley to beg me for help…”
A lump formed in Jeron’s throat. “Y-you don’t… Think….”
Sylus shook his head, “It’s best not to jump to conclusions, but we should hurry.”
“I’ll drive…” Jeron ran for the stairs.
“It’s right down the road…”
“Sylus,” he paused a moment, “You and I both know what we might find there…”
Swallowing hard, Sylus gave him a nod. He turned to Daniel before following Jeron out to the truck, “Stay put. Everything’s gonna be okay.”
Daniel nodded, hugging his phone closer to his chest.